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Maui Fires

Articles & Interviews

09/07/2023 - Bloomberg Businessweek Podcast: Maui County accused of gross negligence

09/06/2023 - Hawaii News Now: Lahaina victim files suit against state landowner saying fire risk was never addressed

09/02/2023 - Washington Post: Maui's neglected grassland caused Lahina fire to grow with deadly speed


PRESS RELASES

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Children of Father Who Perished in Lahaina Fire Alongside Girlfriend Accuse Maui County, State of Hawaii, Hawaiian Electric and Bishop Estate of Gross Negligence

Second Complaint Filed by Bickerton Law Group LLLP and Andrews & Thornton Alleges Grassland Neglect Among the Factors That Caused August 8th Death of Lahaina Resident Doug Gloege

Honolulu, HI, September 19, 2023 / The County of Maui, State of Hawai ‘ i, HECO and its subsidiaries , as well as major landowner, Bishop Estate, have been named as co-defendants in a civil action filed by the son and daughter of a man who was tragically and suddenly killed with his partner, Rebecca Rans, trying to escape the fires that devastated the community of Lahaina on Maui on August 8th. The complaint filed yesterday in the Circuit Court of the Second additionally accuses the defendants of causing and fueling the fire that destroyed the Lahaina residence that Doug Gloege shared with Rebecca Rans, causing them to flee, cut ting off their escape paths and routes, and ultimately resulting in their wrongful deaths.

Plaintiffs Jon Gloege and Andrea Wheeler are the son and daughter of Doug Gloege and they filed a complaint individually and on behalf of all heirs of their father’s estate. The plaintiffs are jointly represented by attorneys at Bickerton Law Group LLLP, a Honolulu-based firm with more than three decades of experience serving people and businesses in Hawai‘i, with experience in grass-originated and grass-fed fire litigation, and Andrews & Thornton, a leading national personal injury and mass torts firm with extensive, relevant experience representing the PG&E Fire Victim Trust as litigation counsel.

“ Everyone has been looking at the spark and ignoring the fuel,” said James Bickerton, Founding Partner of Bickerton Law Group. “Because of our firm’s work on the earlier Parker Ranch fire – which was environmentally devastating, though less deadly – we immediately understood the role fuel plays in fires in our state. The fuel here was vast expanses of neglected, invasive, non-native and flammable grasses and brush vegetation.”

“Hawai‘i residents know that our state is susceptible to high winds and ferocious storms,” said Bridget G. Morgan-Bickerton, Managing Partner of Bickerton Law Group. “The storms follow a typical and predictable track, with strong winds downing tree and power lines, sparking fire in the grasslands, which spreads rapidly after being fanned by strong wind gusts. The County, State, utilities and landowners were given an astounding five years to prepare between major fires in Lahaina, but did nothing. The result was catastrophic.”

“It’s indefensible that this invasive, highly flammable vegetation was allowed to grow rampant right next to Lahaina without any sort of management,” said Anne Andrews, Founding Partner of Andrews & Thornton. “The reason that the complaint alleges gross negligence, rather than solely negligence, is because fires like this have happened before under nearly identical conditions, yet the responsible parties failed to take action and adequately prepare, resulting in the wrongful and preventable deaths of over 95 people.”

As alleged in the complaint, each of the defendants caused the fires that devastated Lahaina and killed Mr. Gloege, whose body was found burned to death alongside that of his longtime partner, Ms. Rans. Born in San Diego, Mr. Gloege eventually moved to Lahaina, where he lived for more than 20 years, due to his love of the area, and to be closer to his parents and half-brother. As the complaint notes, Mr. Gloege excelled at his job in construction because he “ loved to work with his hands in the open air outside the confines of an office or cubicle.” He and his partner “had a mutual love of spending time in the sun, beach, and mountains of Maui. They continued to stay together until both of them met their untimely demise by burning to death a few blocks from their home because of the Lahaina Fire.”

As detailed in the complaint, Mr. Gloege’s family was extremely worried about his safety and did everything they could to obtain information about the fire itself and their loved one’s whereabouts, using Facebook and Google Docs to collect and share information, and communicated with the family of his partner, Rebecca Rans. After 11 long days, the plaintiffs’ efforts came to a close when, on August 19th, FBI agents knocked on Jon Gloege’s door to inform him that his father’s remains were positively identified through fingerprint evidence just a few blocks from his home, alongside those of his deceased partner.

The complaint details how the risk of wildfires to Lahaina was known to the defendants, documented in reports from the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization dating back to at least 2014. Yet it was only in 2022 that Hawaiian Electric submitted its first request for funding to harden its power grid, far too late. Repeated, specific warnings from the National Weather Service in Honolulu about “dry weather & high fire danger” beginning August 4th meant that the utility defendants knew or should have known that conditions nearly identical to, if not worse than, the 2018 fire were soon to occur and they should de-energize their power lines to prevent the potential fire spread.

As stated in the complaint, Maui County officials were also ill prepared for the Lahaina Fire, failing to adequately warn residents that the fire was marching towards them, which would have given them more time to flee, and insufficiently planning for multiple evacuation routes. Large landowners, including Bishop Estate, the State, and Maui County, had a duty to reduce fire risk to Lahaina and other vulnerable places, yet they undertook no or poor vegetation management. Bishop Estate is a trust that was endowed with nearly 10% of the landmass of the state of Hawai‘i. Today, Bishop owns several large parcels of land that were in the path of and facilitated the fire destruction that ultimately destroyed Rans’ residence and caused her untimely and tragic death.

About Bickerton Law Group LLLP

Bickerton Law Group is one of Honolulu's premier litigation law firms. Widely respected in Hawai‘i's legal community, Bickerton Law Group attorneys are known for their tenacity, innovation, and practicality in helping accident, fire, and malpractice victims, injured consumers, employees, and public figures navigate the legal system. Since 1989, its Honolulu litigation attorneys have successfully represented clients on matters as wide-ranging as wrongful death and substantial personal injury, class actions, unfair competition, wrongful termination , public interest advocacy, professional liability and medical malpractice, protecting Hawai‘i's land, people, and open government. Learn more at bsds.com .

About Andrews & Thornton

Through successful litigations against companies that made harmful products, Andrews & Thornton has obtained compensation for injured consumers through the combined knowledge of over fifty years of legal experience. Andrews & Thornton has been a leader in pharmaceutical, medical device and dietary supplement litigation, prosecuting lawsuits in State and Federal District Courts. Its attorneys have earned a national reputation as effective mass tort advocates and have been asked to participate with mass tort leadership in California, Hawaii, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Minnesota. Andrews & Thornton has also worked inside some of the largest corporate bankruptcies in history to secure compensation for victims. Andrews & Thornton has helped negotiate billions in compensation for victims in bankruptcies, including $13.5 billion for PG&E fire victims (Camp Fire, Nuns Fire, Atlas Fire, Tubbs Fire). Learn more at andrewsthornton.com .

CONTACTS:

James J. Bickerton, Esq.
bickerton@bsds.com
808-624-7514
Bridget G. Morgan-Bickerton, Esq.
morgan@bsds.com
808-624-7524

Attorneys for Plaintiffs
Bickerton Law Group, LLLP

Assistants to Mr. Bickerton and Ms. Morgan-Bickerton:

Karen Kaneshiro:
karen@bsds.com
808-599-9576

Michele Sibert:
michele@bsds.com
808-524-0685

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Maui County and State of Hawai i Accused of Gross Negligence in Lawsuit Filed By Father of Maui Fire Victim

Press Conference Tuesday, September 5, 2023 at 11:00 a.m. HST

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88612861649

Complaint Filed by Bickerton Law Group LLLP and Andrews & Thornton Also Alleges Hawa i ian Electric and Landowner Bishop Estate Caused the Fire that Led to the August 8th Death of Lahaina Resident Rebecca Rans and Hundreds of Others

Honolulu, HI, September 5, 2023 /PR Newswire/ -- The County of Maui and State of Hawai ‘ i have been named for the first time as co-defendants and landowners liable for nuisance in a civil action filed by the father of a 57-year-old woman who was tragically and suddenly killed trying to escape the fires that devastated the community of Lahaina within the County of Maui on August 8th. The complaint filed yesterday in the Circuit Court of the Second Circuit of the State of Hawai‘i additionally accuses utility Hawaiian Electric Company, Inc. and its subsidiary Maui Electric Company, Limited – as well as major landowner, Bishop Estate, of facilitating the fire that destroyed the residence of Rebecca Rans, causing her to flee, cut ting off her escape paths and routes, and ultimately resulting in her wrongful death.

Plaintiff Harold Dennis Wells filed the complaint individually and on behalf of all heirs of his daughter’s estate. He is jointly represented by attorneys at Bickerton Law Group LLLP, a Honolulu-based firm with more than three decades of experience serving people and businesses in Hawai‘i, with experience in grass-originated and grass-fed fire litigation, and Andrews & Thornton, a leading national personal injury and mass torts firm with extensive, relevant experience representing the PG&E Fire Victim Trust as litigation counsel.

“Rebecca Rans’ death is all the more tragic because of how preventable it was,” said James Bickerton, Founding Partner of Bickerton Law Group. “As someone who has spent nearly my entire life in Hawai‘i, I have witnessed firsthand how the Island of Maui has been taken over by invasive, non-native and flammable grasses and brush vegetation. The combination of weather, uncontrolled vegetation and decaying and neglected electrical infrastructure predictably created a tinderbox ready to explode in Maui. The risk was not theoretical – it was visible, palpable and entirely avoidable.”

Bickerton added: “Lahaina was an island in a sea of dry grass that should have been cut to stubble at the beginning of the summer fire season. All the landowners knew how dangerous it was to have that huge volume of dry grass next to subdivisions, and could have saved hundreds of lives at a cost of less than $1000 per acre to cut the brush down. With the fires coming in from all of their lands, people in Lahaina were encircled and their escape routes cut off.”

“The apocalyptic Maui fires should never have happened,” said Bridget G. Morgan-Bickerton, Managing Partner of Bickerton Law Group. “ The hundreds of people who died horrific deaths in Maui last month left behind countless friends and loved ones who are still deeply mourning their loss. Their grief has been made worse by the lack of answers and accountability from County and State authorities. Our suit also asks the large landowners to remove the risk that still hangs over West Maui as large areas nearby still have great amounts of unburned grass fuel . In recent years, Hawaii has seen a dramatic rise in g rass-originated and grass-fed fire s. We are steadfastly committed to protecting the interests of victims and their surviving relatives, and helping ensure the safety of our islands for future generations.”

“Like Rebecca Rans and so many others, I am also a Californian who was drawn to the natural beauty of the islands of Hawai‘i,” said Anne Andrews, Founding Partner of Andrews & Thornton. “She made her home in Lahaina for over two decades, living in the same house, raising her family and becoming deeply rooted in Hawaiian traditions. On August 8th, her family members on the mainland grew deeply concerned after hearing about the fires burning out of control in Rebecca’s community. They waited 11 long, agonizing days for confirmation of her death – something that thousands of desperate family members and friends of victims are still awaiting. The County, State, power companies, and large landowners must be held to account.”

As alleged in the complaint, each of the defendants caused the fires that devastated Lahaina and killed Rebecca Rans, whose body was found burned to death alongside that of her longtime partner. Ms. Rans suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis and could only walk short distances. On August 11th, Ms. Rans’ sister filled out a missing person report with the Lahaina Police Department and the FBI came to her house to collect a DNA sample. On August 19th, FBI agents notified her that Ms. Rans was confirmed to be deceased and her remains had been positively identified a few blocks from her house, behind a building, with those of her boyfriend after they had clearly attempted to flee the fire. Ms. Rans was wearing her gold bracelet with the word Ku‘uipo engraved on it, the Hawaiian word for “sweetheart.” When her sister relayed what the FBI agents had told her to her elderly father, the Plaintiff, he became extremely distressed and inconsolable.

The complaint details how the risk of wildfires to Lahaina was known to defendants, documented in reports from the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization dating back to at least 2014. Yet it was only in 2022 that Hawaiian Electric submitted its first request for funding to harden its power grid, far too late. Repeated, specific warnings from the National Weather Service in Honolulu about “dry weather & high fire danger” beginning August 4th meant that the utility defendants knew or should have known that conditions nearly identical to, if not worse than, the 2018 fire were soon to occur and they should de-energize their power lines to prevent the potential fire spread.

As stated in the complaint, Maui County officials were also ill prepared for the Lahaina Fire, failing to adequately warn residents that the fire was marching towards them, which would have given them more time to flee, and insufficiently planning for multiple evacuation routes. Large landowners, including Bishop Estate, the State, and Maui County, had a duty to reduce fire risk to Lahaina and other vulnerable places, yet they undertook no or poor vegetation management. Bishop Estate is a charitable foundation established more than 100 years ago by the will of princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the great-granddaughter and last descendant of King Kamehameha the Great. It is a trust that was endowed with nearly 10% of the landmass of the state of Hawai‘i. Today, Bishop owns several large parcels of land that were in the path of and facilitated the fire destruction that ultimately destroyed Rans’ residence and caused her untimely and tragic death.

About Bickerton Law Group LLLP

Bickerton Law Group is one of Honolulu's premier litigation law firms. Widely respected in Hawai‘i's legal community, Bickerton Law Group attorneys are known for their tenacity, innovation, and practicality in helping accident, fire, and malpractice victims, injured consumers, employees, and public figures navigate the legal system. Since 1989, its Honolulu litigation attorneys have successfully represented clients on matters as wide-ranging as wrongful death and substantial personal injury, class actions, unfair competition, wrongful termination , public interest advocacy, professional liability and medical malpractice, protecting Hawai‘i's land, people, and open government. Learn more at bsds.com .

About Andrews & Thornton

Through successful litigations against companies that made harmful products, Andrews & Thornton has obtained compensation for injured consumers through the combined knowledge of over fifty years of legal experience. Andrews & Thornton has been a leader in pharmaceutical, medical device and dietary supplement litigation, prosecuting lawsuits in State and Federal District Courts. Its attorneys have earned a national reputation as effective mass tort advocates and have been asked to participate with mass tort leadership in California, Hawaii, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Minnesota. Andrews & Thornton has also worked inside some of the largest corporate bankruptcies in history to secure compensation for victims. Andrews & Thornton has helped negotiate billions in compensation for victims in bankruptcies, including $13.5 billion for for PG&E fire victims (Camp Fire, Nuns Fire, Atlas Fire, Tubbs Fire). Learn more at andrewsthornton.com .

CONTACTS:

James J. Bickerton, Esq.
bickerton@bsds.com
808-624-7514
Bridget G. Morgan-Bickerton, Esq.
morgan@bsds.com
808-624-7524

Attorneys for Plaintiffs
Bickerton Law Group, LLLP

Assistants to Mr. Bickerton and Ms. Morgan-Bickerton:

Karen Kaneshiro:
karen@bsds.com
808-599-9576

Michele Sibert:
michele@bsds.com
808-524-0685